What Is Culling in Photography and Why Is It Important?

Whether you are still an amateur or are already a professional in commercial photography, culling your images after shooting sessions is critical to your success. 

Many photographers find it to be very unpleasant and boring. I just can’t imagine what sifting through a few hundred RAW images, sometimes, even thousands, to surface what is worth looking at would feel like.

Culling is a particularly crucial step in the image editing process, but it can be challenging to understand how to go about it. When you are first starting out in the image-editing world, you may find culling to be a waste of time, or just hard to work out a good practice.

If you want to understand why photo culling is so crucial to your success, you can join me as I explain why photographers often cull images first before they edit. We’ll first find out what photo culling is and why it’s important in photography. And then, we will learn how to cull images and how to approach culling like an expert.

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What Is Culling in Photography?

We can define culling as the process of selecting images that we want to focus on after a shooting before we start editing everything. Photographers often end up with massive collections of images after a single shoot. Think of concert and wedding photo sessions. 

You can end up with a few thousand photographs, which you obviously cannot deliver them all to your client. You will want to pick only the ones that are worth showing.

Really, editing every single photograph from a shoot is not necessary, or even practical. Besides, your clients also won’t be expecting you to do all that, that boring and tedious work—yet they will only use a few great photos from your collections.

So that is basically why professional photographers always cull-in or cull-out photographs prior to editing. And it’s all so they can deliver only the absolute best final product to their clients. That is also how you can preserve your name as a ‘professional photographer’ in addition to being great behind the lens.

Why is Culling so Important in Photography?

Just from the definition we can almost clearly see why culling is so important in photography. It simply plays an important part in delivering exceptional results, and fast. Here are some ways culling can help streamline the process of your image post-processing:

01. Discarding bad and duplicate images

After a photo session, you will obviously end up with a handful of good-quality photographs that make you proud as the photographer. 

But let’s be honest, we also usually end up with a few hundred duplicates and bad images that we just want to get rid of. There are often those kinds of photographs that you don’t need to think twice before deleting. And there are often a lot of them.

Think of the ones with weird face impressions or blinking and poses, that didn’t just turn out the way you wanted. You obviously don’t want to edit all those identical images, or even show your clients their weird-looking photographs with poor timing on your end.

02. Speeding up the editing process

Once you have your selection of the best images, you will have an easy time editing and refining them during post-processing. This will save both you and your client a lot of time, as you will only have images worth your time and energy to work on.

03. Fast delivery

If you do all the above things right and fast, you will be able to deliver stellar results fast, and your clients will truly appreciate that. Good work plus fast delivery often results in 100% customer satisfaction, which means more future projects from customer referrals.

How to Cull your images

There are many ways to cull. Whether you want to approach it manually or systematically, the most important thing is that your culling method should boost your workflow. Keep these few things in mind when culling your images:

  • Assess the content in every photograph. Think of the composition. Are the subjects in the intended position? Are there any sorts of destructive elements in the frame?
  • Try looking at the technical aspects of every photograph. Did you get the exposure right? Is the focus sharp enough?
  • Think of the emotional impact of every photograph. Do they convey the story and emotions of the event?
  • Always take your time when culling your images. Review every piece more carefully, and don’t rush when deciding what photos to keep and what to trash.
  • When reviewing photographs, always be critical and very honest with yourself. If you feel like something isn’t up to your standards, just erase it straightaway to save your and your client’s time.

Furthermore, there are two primary types of culling (culling in or culling out). Understanding how they work is essential to the culling process, as it helps you decide on the type of culling method that would work well with your workflow.

Culling in or culling out?

In brief, the idea behind these two types of image culling methods is to add color, flags, or star ratings to the photographs that you want to either keep or discard. Culling in photos means adding color, flags, or star ratings to what you wish to keep, while culling out is quite the opposite.

Whether you decide to use the cull-in or cull-out methods, double-checking to ensure that you have labeled the right images is crucial to the process. Also, make sure that you are not deleting anything that would add meaning to your story if you do a great job during editing.

Approaching photo culling as a professional

Professionals don’t do it any differently. They may be a little bit more creative during the shooting or during photo culling, but they will often follow the above culling methods and use this editing approach:

Starting with culling and then editing 

It’s OK to cull large groups of photos, which can of course take more time to finish, especially when culling manually. Regardless of how long it takes, you don’t want to edit what you might discard later on, so make sure you are done with photo culling before you start editing.

Inputting or adding meta-data

Adding brief information, like a name, the time, and the specific location, to the set of pictures during post-processing is equally important. 

It saves a lot of time, making both your work and life much easier when you want to revisit the photos while editing or delivering the final set of images to a client.

Establishing a culling process 

The truth is, it might take several culling sessions before establishing an effective process. However, with each culling session, you gain experience and learn new skills. 

You will eventually pick up new culling tricks and techniques to speed up the process, and that’s when you will finally establish your optimum workflow.

Final words

Photo culling is an essential skill for any photographer, whether you are just getting started in photography or are already an expert. As a professional photographer, you should always strive to refine your craft.

As you work hard to deliver images to your clients, you should also work twice as hard to tell a compelling story in their final product, especially if it’s a wedding or other event. 

While it might seem hard to know where to begin with culling, the process can help you discard images that are not quite up to your standards or vision. The point of culling your images is often only to help you select the best and most flattering pictures for your story.